by By Sophie Moeller
WHAT better way to get writing experience than as a reporter at The Byron Bay Writers Festival.
Southern Cross University's media tent has proved a successful service, not just to the students who take up the role, but for those who want regular updates and reports on what is happening at our region's prestigious literary event.
Lecturer Jeanti St Clair, with SCU's Bachelor of Digital Media and Communication Program, says the students' contribution to the Byron Bay Writers Festival (BBWF) blog has been "invaluable” for the university's aspiring writers, teaching them to produce to a deadline within a short timeframe.
Southern Cross University has been a major partner of the BBWF for 18 years but, seven years ago, Jeanti headed up a team of students for the first time to report on-site from their own tent.
The opportunity for the team of multi-skilled students has now evolved to include live tweeting, photographing sessions as they happen, and session reviews and social media.
Students studying a course sometimes only produce three pieces of work for a course within a 12-week period, says Jeanti.
"In this instance, they do not have two weeks to come up with a lead.
"Reporting on festival events in real time gives students a sense of what's required in real journalism practice, in terms of the pace of production and quality of their writing. It also gives them an opportunity to hone their skills in determining what angles they take on stories. They come away with a sense of 'I could actually be a journalist!',” she says.
Megan Morgan is a third-year student at the university and this year will be her third covering the event.
"The experience has taught me how to pare down to the important stuff; to focus on the key point in each talk within a certain amount of time and in a certain number of words.”
Nathalie Foord has also been contributing to the BBWF blog for three years and in that time has developed a system for producing images in almost real time.
Jeff Clark says the key skill the experience has given him is the ability to "write faster”.
This will be Chris Speed's first year at the festival. He is hoping "full immersion” in the writer's world and to get a "good all-around grounding as a writer”.
Each of the students who represent a number of different writing-centric degrees offered at the uni says the best thing about the BBWF is it is more " intimate than a music festival but still lively and inspiring”.
"The action in the media tent is busy with everyone on task, all doing their thing within a symphony of other writers”, Jeanti says.
The Sunflower, the university's solar power system run by Dr Barry Hill of the department of social sciences, will be powering the media tent located next to the SCU Marquee, where festival-goers will be able to observe the students at work and find out information about the university's writing programs and other courses.